It was a dark and stormy night.
No, really. It was after 2 in the morning and, despite the fact that this was the middle of August, the private docks in the Bremerton Marina were slick with a cool mist. The wind was even picking up out of the north. And nearby, deep in the forward berthing area of the USS Turner Joy, two strange voices were crying out from the inky blackness.
“Talk to us, Carl,” said Bob McCrea.
“We’ll be nice,” said Michelle Ruddach. “If I remember correctly, you admitted that you like all women. Is that correct?”
Carl may or may not have been one of three sailors killed by a misfired shell onboard the Turner Joy in the fall of 1964, when the destroyer was stationed off the coast of South Vietnam. And his ghost may or may not be haunting the hull. And he may or may not have had a thing for blondes. And redheads. The only thing that can be said with any confidence about his spirit—if it’s actually bunking on the boat—is that it ain’t talkative.
McCrea and Ruddach, though, are very much alive, if not a little sleepy-looking. They’re paranormal investigators with the Advanced Ghost Hunters of Seattle and Tacoma (AGHOST), and they were lobbing questions into the ether to goad Carl into validating rumors that this long-ago decommissioned warship, now a floating museum, is haunted. (About those rumors: According to a Turner Joy employee, a former volunteer whose mother is a ghost hunter brought a group of friends aboard two years ago to investigate without any real paranormal prompting.)
What they weren’t there to do was collect ectoplasmic residue or bust ghosts. Instead of gearing up with proton packs and ghost traps, they took a decidedly less aggressive approach to apparition interaction, carrying electromagnetic field detectors and weather gauges to measure environmental changes that could prove—or disprove—the presence of otherworldly phenomena. And not only were they not charging for their work (they never do), they had to fork over $45 apiece just for the right to explore the ship after hours. “We don’t do this to try to get rid of the spirits,” says Ross Allison, AGHOST’s founder and president. “Most of the time clients are just curious as to who it is and why they’re there.”
Even their strategy for smoking out spooks is deliberate and levelheaded: minimal pre-investigation research that might predispose them to seeing things that aren’t there. Careful collection of control data against which to compare their measurements. Immediately owning up to any noises they make that could be mistaken for communications from beyond. They even produce a report on their findings for the client, complete with audio and video files. “The problem that we’re having nowadays is that there are so many groups out there that honestly don’t know what the hell they’re doing,” Allison says. “They’re just imitating what they see on TV.”
Hear that? This isn’t the night-vision-goggle-using, edited-for-television dramathon of the Syfy channel’s Ghost Hunters International. (In fact, the only thing AGHOST has in common with that show is the international part. The Puget Sound poltergeist party has flown as far away as Romania to scare up evidence of extraordinary entities.) And the unfortunate, unintended consequence of the ultra-scientific approach—if you’re after heart-hammering encounters of the undead kind—is that these investigations can, at times, be a little…lifeless.
I crept through the Turner Joy for four hours, hoping to happen upon a deck-swabbing phantom who could scare me out of my late-night stupor, but the closest I came was jumping at my own ghostly reflection in a Plexiglas partition. For what it’s worth, Allison warned me that successful spirit sightings are of the right place, right time variety, and I no doubt decreased my chances by spending the first hour of the offshore outing waiting for one AGHOST investigator to coax his cranky laptop into recognizing a high-tech weather meter.
Despite my best efforts to explain away what I witnessed in the forward berthing area, though, I can’t: McCrea and Ruddach didn’t expect Carl to moan audible responses to their questions, but they were watching their EMF detector closely for evidence of his presence. If it lit up red after they queried him, it might indicate he was trying to communicate with them. After minutes of unanswered questions (“Should we leave? Do you want Michelle here by herself?”), Bob teased the stubborn skirt-chasing specter. “That guy in the corner, if you light up the meter when we ask you questions, he’s going to write a story that’s going to bring more girls onto this boat.” And just then, a single red light bathed the room in crimson.
Message received, Carl.